I mentioned in a previous post that Ghent is one of the more underrated cities in Belgium, a vibrant and beautiful destination that isn’t always on the tourist radar. One of the things that I like about Ghent is its excellent culinary scene. It is easy to find good restaurants, cosy cafes and trendy bars here.
During my last visit to Ghent with my family, we rented an Airbnb apartment that was located in the medieval city centre. While the apartment had a fully equipped kitchen, we ate out for the most part as there was so much to try.
Rather than tell you what we ate or drank, I’m going to suggest a food-centric journey through Ghent if you’re there for a day or two. So, here goes!
8:30am: Start the day with a cup of coffee at the charming Mokabon café @ Donkersteeg 35 (open Mon-Sat 8am-7pm).
This was the first coffee bar in Ghent when it opened in 1937. Today, it remains a popular hangout for locals of all ages.
When you enter Mokabon, you will feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The interiors of the cafe is in Art Deco style, complete with cursive neon light signs. The friendly waitresses, in their no-frills black and white uniform, are either busy making coffee or serving them at the tables.
Coffee is often served with a dollop of whipped cream here – for instance, when you order a cappuccino or macchiato. If you don’t want any, just let the waitress know when ordering.
The waffles at Mokabon are light and crisp. If you’re not hungry, try the basic version which comes with a sprinkling of icing sugar. There is also a more filling option which includes a generous serving of mixed fruits – a perfect start to a day of exploring Ghent!
Starbucks opened an outlet a few doors from Mokabon (how insidious!) Please avoid Starbucks and instead turn the corner down the alley and plonk yourself at a table in the cosy Mokabon.
9:30am: If you’re still hungry after the coffee and waffle, go round the corner to the excellent Himschoot bakery @ Groentenmarkt 1 (open Mon-Fri 7:30am-6pm, Sat-Sun 8am-6pm).
Tiny as it may be, it has plenty to offer. The walls are lined with golden loaves of freshly baked bread and you’ll be surrounded by display cases filled with tempting pastries.
Where does one start? Just pick whatever catches your fancy. You can’t go wrong here. The raisin bread (which comes in white, multi-grain and rye versions) is pretty damn good when lightly toasted and smeared lightly with salted butter.
Read this article if you’re interested to know more about Himschoot and the dedication behind its success.
09:45am: Visit Gravensteen Castle or take a leisurely boat cruise leaving from the picturesque Graslei harbour. For more suggestions on exploring the medieval heart of Ghent, check out my previous post.
12:30pm: I hope that all that walking around has made you hungry. Balls & Glory @ Jakobijnenstraat 6 (open Mon-Sat 10am-9pm) is perfect for those with a hearty appetite.
The signature “glory balls” weigh in at a hefty 220 grams. The stuffed meatball options include mushroom + truffle, ham + leek, and blue cheese + pine nuts. These are served with either green salad or the traditional Belgian stoemp (mashed potato with vegetable).
Wash it down with some beer or the homemade lemonade. You might have to loosen a notch on your belt after eating here.
2:00pm: Take a stroll along the shopping streets near Balls & Glory or visit one of the city’s medieval monuments such as Sint-Baafskathedraal (St. Bavo’s Cathedral), where Jan van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb is housed.
Alternatively, climb up the Belfry tower – there are only 366 steps – for a panoramic view of the city. Great way to work off those glory balls!
6:00pm: It’s time for some aperitif.
Option 1: Beer at Herberg De Dulle Griet @ Vrijdagmarkt 50 (open Mon 4:30pm-1am, Tue-Sat 12pm-1am, Sun 12pm-7:30pm)
Located at Vrijdagmarkt, one of the oldest squares in Ghent, Herberg De Dulle Griet is a popular pub amongst the locals and tourists alike. Its eclectic decor features lacy lampshades, animal heads and puppets hung from wooden beams.
It offers the widest beer selection in Ghent and serves more than 260 different beers. A novelty at Herberg De Dulle Griet is the house Max blonde beer, which comes in a 1.2 litre custom-made glass.
Be prepared to surrender one of your shoes as deposit when you order “Max”. Your shoe will be put away in a netted basket which is hoisted up by the bartender with the press of a button and you can redeem it only after you’ve paid your bill. You can see the basket in the top right corner of the photo below.
Option 2: Jenever tasting at ‘t Dreupelkot @ Groentenmarkt 12 (open Mon-Sat 4pm-3am)
Some people consider jenever to be the national liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium. Made primarily from juniper berry, jenever is said to be the predecessor of gin.
‘t Dreupelkot serves more than 200 jenevers. Try a shot of the house-brand cherry jenever with jenever-soaked cherries – it’s marvellous.
You could come by the tiny bar every day for a month and still not try everything on the menu. You might however get on friendly terms with its owner, Pol – whom I’ve been told by a Belgian colleague is “quite a personality”.
In the bar, you will see a mood-o-meter which presumably indicates Pol’s mood – ranging from 100 for a jolly good day to cross-my-path-and-you-shall-burn-in-hell zero.
7:30pm: Ghent has a lively restaurant scene with much to offer. There are many great restaurants, including some in unusual and spectacular venues.
For instance: For contemporary fine dining, there is the excellent Volta restaurant which is located in a former turbine station. Brasserie Pakhuis offers a modern take on the traditional Belgian brasserie cuisine in an amazing 19th century Art Nouveau warehouse.
If you’re feeling carnivorous, Amadeus Ribs would be a good option. It is a chain restaurant with four outlets in Ghent and is also present in Antwerp and Brussels.
The flagship restaurant is at Plotersgracht 8-10 and is open Mon-Thu 6:30-11pm, Fri-Sat 6pm-midnight, Sun 12-2pm, 6-11pm. Expect hearty portions of ribs served alongside baked potatoes with curry butter. Plus, it’s unlimited – I’ve seen some diners eat up to four rows of ribs!
The interior design is a tad kitsch with old beer memorabilia, neon pink lighting and curios. Don’t let that put you off – in fact, it complements the dining experience.
10pm: If you’re not stuffed after dinner, head over to Jigger’s – The Noble Drugstore @ Oudburg 16 (open Tue-Thu 5pm-1am, Fri-Sat 5pm-2:30am) for a nightcap.
To enter Jigger’s, press the bell at the street entrance and wait. Someone will open the door and bring you to the intimate bar which is in the basement and leads out to a terrace. It’s not exactly a speakeasy, but it exudes a similar discrete ambiance.
The cocktail bar was opened in 2011 by Olivier Jacobs, who has twice been awarded best bartender in the Benelux during the Diageo World Class Bartender Contest. The drinks menu changes every week, and while it may be small, each cocktail is carefully prepared with quality ingredients.
You can easily spend a few leisurely hours at Jigger’s before it is time to call it a night.
All photographs were taken with an iPhone and edited using the VSCO Cam app.